Steering on the Tideway

Anyone steering a boat on the Tideway has to meet a certain level of ability and be familiar with "Rowing on the Tideway, a code of practice for the tidal Thames" produced by the PLA. British Rowing have also produced a guide. The club has a list of boat classes that individual members are considered competent to steer.  

The content of this page overlaps with that of two others. The focus of each is this:

Safety - the safety of the person.
Coxing and steering - the role of a cox or steerer.
Rights and responsibilities - what you can expect, what others can expect of you and protection of equipment.

Requirements for all members

Members need to be aware of the obvious dangers, such as falling from the pontoon ramp and the less obvious ones, such as the risk of infection from contaminated river water. All members should:

  • Be able to swim 100m in rowing kit, or wear a lifejacket on the water at all times
  • Be able to perform an emergency stop.
  • Have permission to use a boat
  • Have read the Tideway Code and Row Safe leaflet.
  • Dress appropriately for the conditions
  • Know the responsibilities of cox, steer and coach.
  • Know what to do if there's an accident on or off the water.

Requirements for coxes, steers, single scullers and coaches. 

You should:

  • Keep a good look out, the advice for single scullers and bow steers is to look round at least every five strokes.
  • Be a member of SOTTRC
  • Have approval of the Safety Officer and committee for the activity you are doing and the conditions you are doing it in
  • Be signed off as competent to steer the kind of boat you are in. Authorised steers are “Master of the Vessel” and legally responsible for the navigation, safety and behaviour of the crew.
  • Log all your outings out and in.
  • Make sure your boats are properly lit
  • Make sure all safety equipment  is in working order. Eg: bow ball, heel restraints, hatch covers, lifejacket, cox box, launch safety kit
  • Assess the risks before every outing.
  • Single scullers should have attended a capsize drill. 
  • Launch drivers should always use a kill cord.
  • Be able to perform an emergency stop, back down and spin
  • Be familiar with the conventional warning calls:  “Take a look [other boat]” – potential risk of collision • “Ahead [other boat]” – imminent risk of collision • “Hold it up” – precautionary stop • “Hold it hard!” – Emergency stop
  • Don't take the launch safety bags, or anything in them. 

Boat safety features

  • Heel restraints. Check before you go afloat. They should be 5cm in length and not more than 7cm. The purpose is to allow you to extract your feet, should the boat capsize, without using your hands. For the same reason do not fasten the shoes up tight, or use shoes that are so small as to make it difficult to get your feet out.
  • Hatch covers. Don't use a boat that does not have a correctly fitting hatch cover.  If you remove the cover to put kit in a buoyancy chamber while on the water, make sure you refit it securely before continuing. 
  • Bow ball. Should be securely fastened to the bow of every boat.
  • Phone. It's recommended that each boat has a mobile phone in a waterproof bag to summon help if needed.  

Using the pontoon

  • On launching, the bows of the boat should always face into the stream. Push off firmly, looking to get the bow out into the river so you are able to use the oars without contacting the pontoon.
  • On landing, again the bows should be facing into the stream - the only exception is when the wind is blowing from the opposite direction, strongly enough to move the boat against the tide.
  • Look at the tide and know which way to take the bow or stern before you get to the bottom of the ramp. 
  • If you launch off the shingle and the tide is coming in, make sure that you will be able to use the pontoon if the tide is up on your return. The bird scarer oar ends may need to be removed, for example.
  • Be wary of waterfowl excrement, and wash it off if you get any on you. Help keep the hawk kite flying to deter the birds. 
  • Watch out for broken glass on the foreshore at low tide. Remove any that you do see to protect others.  

Lighting and rowing at night

  • Members rowing at night and using club equipment should have the permission of the committee, or be attended by a launch.
  • Lights are required from dusk to dawn, much as they are for motor vehicles.
  • White lights at both ends, visible through at least 180°.
  • The bow light may flash
  • Lights must be securely attached to the boat, not the crew.
  • It is advisable to carry a spare light and have a means of fixing it to the boat.
  • White or hi-vis kit is recommended.


  • If you fall into the water, stay with your boat. Get as much of your body out of the water as possible, and swim the boat to the bank. 
  • Be familiar with the British Rowing procedure shown in this film.
  • If you wade to the bank you are likely not to be wearing shoes/boots. Although you will be balancing one risk against another, try to avoid stepping on broken glass on the river bottom which is most likely to be outside pubs. 
  • Failure to see obstructions, such as the PLA navigation buoys, and other boats are likely causes of capsizes.

If you are involved in an accident

  • If the boat gets damaged, fill in the damage log in the Fours bay
  • If you see an accident, or even a near miss, por navigation or anti-social behaviour, report it to British Rowing using their online incident reporting tool. (You'll need a login which you get with British Rowing membership.)
  • If you see an accident offer what help you can, without putting  yourself at risk.
  • if the situation requires it, dial 999 and ask for "Coastguard", or call Chiswick Lifeboat Station on 020 8995 5534

Assess risk before going out

Before every outing, consider the risks:

  •  Water conditions, specifically the height of the tide, rate of stream, wave size and wind. Be aware that wind conditons can change dramatically from one reach of the Tideway to the next
  • Visibility - you should not go out if you cannot see Hammersmith Bridge from Linden House
  • In icy conditions be careful about slipping, especially on the ramp and pontoon
  • When the river is cold be especially cautious about falling in

Dove Pier is dangerous

Dove Pier is genuinely dangerous if you get washed onto it, particularly when the tide is strong. DO NOT TURN TOWARD DOVE PIER once you have passed Latymer's pontoon heading down-river towards Hammersmith Bridge. Turn the other way, onto Surrey bank to avoid the pier. Coming up river on the flood tide, aim to pass under Hammersmith Bride under the word BRIDGE. Be wary of the large green navigation buoy placed to mark Dove Pier, as well as the pier itself. This is the most prominent hazard near the club, but there are many others. 

Other safety considerations

  • Be careful of falling from the ramp, it has no handrail. Consider whether you need extra people to carry a boat down the ramp in high winds - especially if you are a single sculler.
  • Be aware that the river contains some harmful organisms. Keep blisters or cuts covered and clean them thoroughly at the earliest opportunity
  • Keep an eye on any cuts or grazes that seem to be infected and be prompt in seeking medical help. We have had a case of a "flesh-eating" bug some years ago.
  • Consider wearing clothing to protect your calves from the slides which can cause some abrasions and cuts. Also, be aware it is possible to row, and even scull, in tight-fitting gloves.
  • RowSafe indicates that the launches should contain:  First Aid kit in a waterproof bag, checked monthly, a throw line, minimum toolkit and spares for the engine (if necessary), safety knife with rope cutter, foil blankets or “Bivvi bags” enough for the passenger load capacity of the launch (which is five), spare PFDs, length of spare rope, anchor and line appropriate for the conditions (if necessary), boathook, spare kill-cord for use in the event of the driver over board, audio signalling device, bailer, paddle, simple handholds fixed to the side of the launch to provide assistance to a person being rescued and to provide self help should the driver fall overboard. Many of the smaller items are in the launch safety bags and must not be removed.

If you experience 'flu like symptoms, again, be prompt in seeking medical help. Although very rare on the Tideway, it is possible to catch Leptospirosis an infection caught through contact with infected animal urine. After an incubation period that can vary from three days to three weeks, most patients suffer severe headaches, red eyes, muscle pains, fatigue, nausea and a temperature of 39C or above. 

Rights and responsibilities

Safety considerations can merge with and overlap your responsibilities to the club and the club's responsibilities to you

Useful links

The PLA's rowing safety video
Tideway Code (PLA)
Row Safe Leaflet (BR)
Row Safe web pages (BR)
Incident Reporting (BR)
Notices to Mariners (PLA)
Trev's Tideway Tour a practical guide to Tideway navigation from our own Trevor Cave.